In August 2012, I began looking for an underrepresented group in American society to photograph. My professor told me about a group of people he had seen walking around in the woods behind a local grocery store in Columbia, Mo. When I visited the makeshift camp there, I stumbled upon Kerstin, a 24-year-old homeless woman, who prefers to be called KK. She didn't live there, but told me of her own camp -- located on the edge of town near Interstate 70. The following week I went to KK's home, a shed surrounded by a larger community of tents and shelters. The 10 people that live in this area share a similar plight. Clark, 42 and a neighbor of KK's, has been addicted to drugs and has spent time in jail like many other members of this tent city.
A census of homeless people has never been taken. The majority of surveys are done by counting the people living in shelters and found on streets. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development numbers range from 250,000 to 3.5 million.
My subjects are not like average homeless people who sleep under bridges or stay at a shelters. People in this community always have a place to stay at night. According to The National Coalition for the Homeless, in 2007, 42 percent of homeless people lived "on the street, in cars, or in 'tent cities'" like the one here. Residents here take pride in their campsites and treat the area around them like it is their home. The tents mainly serve as bedrooms. They use outside space for their bathrooms, kitchens and household items. Clark says the best thing he ever did was to move into the woods. Even though it is not where he imagined he would be, it helped him change from his previous life. "Anybody who has a drug problem should move to the woods. It heals you. It healed me."